My last letter as Rector of Newbold with Dunston! This has been a month of “lasts” – my last School Assembly, last Churches in North Chesterfield Service, Churches Together in Newbold Meeting, Pastoral Visiting Team Meeting, Mothers’ Union Mass and Meeting, PCC Meeting, Baptism, and so much more. Still to come are several more “lasts” before retirement day arrives. My last service will be on 4th October – Dedication Sunday.
Dedication Sunday is a Sunday when a church looks at itself. Parish priests often work hard at getting congregations to look outside their own church walls to understand that they are part of a wider church – referred to as catholicity. We belong to a diocese, to the Church of England, to worldwide Christianity, to the universal band of pilgrims who are baptised into Christ as his followers. This is our fellowship and not to recognise it risks descending into congregationalism and personal religion. But we also know that to belong to one church, one congregation is also important. For many people the church is only real insofar as it is local. “My Church” is the place where worship, witness, mission and evangelism, together with fellowship as brothers and sisters in Christ are practised and experienced. Here is where “church family” is lived out in mutual encouragement, nourishment and growth. Dedication Sunday is THE Sunday in the year when we look at ourselves.
For me, Dedication Sunday has three focusses for worship and meditation – past, present and future. 1. At St. John’s, I have always encouraged thanksgiving for the inheritance we have received and for all who have loved and served God here in the past – not only faithful priests, founders and benefactors but every person who has worshipped here and supported the venture of Newbold Parish Church since 1857. 2. We give thanks for the church of the present day with all its blessings. When St. Laurence was asked to deliver the treasures of his church to those who demanded its riches, he presented the people! We might well give thanks for the building in which we are delighted to worship and socialise but the real treasure and beauty here is found in the folks who come faithfully to worship and to serve. 3. To ask for God’s grace for the future – for wisdom and strength to meet the challenges, for His guidance to form us into the Church he would want us to be for generations to come.
So, earlier in the year, as I pondered when would be a good time to retire and on what Sunday to celebrate my last mass here, it seemed to me that Dedication Sunday fitted the bill perfectly. My retirement brings memories of the past, blessings of the present, and hopes for the future as the Interregnum begins, as does the search for a new Rector.
Memories of the past were brought into sharp focus this month as we heard of the deaths of two priests who served at Newbold.Fr Robin Charles was assistant priest here with me for 2 years before he left to take up a post in Worcester. Fr. Raymond Ross was, of course, Rector of Newbold for 23 years before his retirement nearly 20 years ago. He will be remembered by many here. There will be a Requiem for him at St John’s at 2.00pm on Monday, October 12th followed by the interment of his ashes in the churchyard. May they both rest in peace.
So, on Dedication Sunday (4th October) there will be services at the usual times of 8.00 am and 9.30 am followed by the opportunity to say farewell at 11.00 am in the Eagle Club. I do hope you will be there at one of the services and at the Farewell afterwards.
Sixteen years ago, I had accepted the Bishop of Derby’s (+Jonathan) invitation to become the next Rector of Newbold. He suggested that I be “put in” in early October (1999). The Archdeacon of Chesterfield (David Garnett) was apoplectic at the idea as the Rectory was partly demolished and was boarded up! He suggested February 2000. So, we had to wait for the builders to finish their work. We moved into the Rectory on 8th January 2000 (a millennium move!) whilst the builders were having to take off the boards from the windows etc. at the same time. I was installed on 24th January 2000. The builders finished their work in the Rectory in the second week of February!
Sixteen years on and Janice and I are waiting for builders to complete the work on our cottage! It looks increasingly as though we shall be spending the first few weeks after our move with builders invading us to finish their scheduled work.
No doubt, there will come a day when I can sit in an easy chair and in peace begin to reminisce. Those already retired tell me the day never comes – but I live in hope! I know that I shall always think of my time in Newbold with thankfulness, surrounded and supported by church folk I think of as family, schools which have been such a joy to work with, organisations which have been inspiring to be a part of, and parishioners who have been so supportive. I have been amazed by people I hardly know, coming up to me or shouting across the road “Oh dear! You’re leaving us. So sorry – but good luck for the future.”
All the baptisms, weddings, funerals, special services I have taken, together with the regular weekly masses and “the daily round, the common task” which constitute parish ministry have provided a time richly blessed in having a “care of souls” in Newbold as I have sought ways to serve Christ, who called me and sustained me. I leave Newbold with a thankful heart for all we have experienced together.
In love and with every blessing,
Fr Nigel Johnson Rector